Pittsburgh Penstravaganza!

Crosby’s big win; Playoff-caliber defense; Was Malkin snubbed in NHL 100 for… Ron Francis?

Dave Lozo looks at Sid’s big week and puts Malkin’s historical greatness into proper context.

NHL: NHL All Star Game
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins split their two games since we last met, losing their last game before the All-Star break and winning their first game out of the break.

But Sidney Crosby added another championship to his trophy case.

That’s right — Crosby captained the Metropolitan Division to an All-Star Game title in the 3-on-3 tournament by defeating one of the other divisions in the final. I could look up which division but I don’t care. I want to say … Pacific? The point is, Crosby is the only player in NHL history with two Stanley Cups, two Olympic golds, a world junior gold and a 3-on-3 All-Star Game championship.

Getting that last notch on the belt could be what puts Crosby into the Hall of Fame. We’ll have to wait and see.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The bad part of All-Star weekend for Penguins fans was when Evgeni Malkin was left off the NHL’s list of the top 100 players of all-time. Malkin has a Hart Trophy, two Hart runner-up finishes, a Conn Smythe Trophy, two Stanley Cups and is 14th all-time in points per game. It’s incredible that a list of so-called experts left Malkin off and thought Mike Gartner was more deserving.

If you’d like to read a top 100 list that’s written by three hockey writers that understand Malkin’s greatness and are OK with a few typos, you can pick up an e-book that will satisfy that urge. It’s super cheap, the players are ranked (unlike the NHL’s list) and there are bonus lists in there. (Editor’s note: Dave, if it’s an e-book, and you know there are typos can’t you just go back and fix th—)

Who will be the happy handshaker after this series?
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the past — the future is Friday, when the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets meet in a battle for NHL supremacy. Or at least second place in the Metro.

The Blue Jackets have 70 points; the Penguins have 67 after 49 games, as both teams finished their last 10 at 5-5-0, while the Washington Capitals have 72 points in 50 games after a recent 7-2-1 run. The division is still super tight and now with less than 35 games remaining, a Blue Jackets regulation win would do wonders for their chances of hosting a potential first-round series against the Penguins.

All-Star Photo

There is no shortage of great images and videos featuring Penguins from All-Star weekend but this feels like the best of them.

Mario Lemieux. Ron Francis. Jaromir Jagr.

They are 2-5-8 on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. They were all named to the NHL’s Top 100 list, even if Francis doesn’t deserve it. Yeah, you heard me. He was never a first- or second-team NHL All-Star and never got higher than fifth in Hart voting. He was a product of playing with Mario and Jagr.

Fight me at your earliest possible convenience if you disagree.

One more tweet, if only to distract you from the fact that Francis isn’t a top 100 player and just compiled a lot of big numbers because his career was so long.

To me, the better caption is, “When you find out Jonathan Toews is a top 100 player but Evgeni Malkin is not.”

Player of the Week

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Patric Hornqvist, who had a goal in the Penguins’ 4-3 loss before the break and two goals in a 4-2 win against the Predators on Tuesday. Offense hasn’t been a problem for the Penguins this season, but it’s nice to see Hornqvist starting to put pucks in the net. He has four goals in his past four games and six points in his past six games.

Player of the Weak

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Olli Maatta’s raw Corsi (even-strength shot attempt differential) the past two games — 37.7 percent. Coach Mike Sullivan dropped his ice time against the Predators to 14:59, the third-lowest mark of the season. Maatta will have highs and lows, partly because he’s dealt with injury and illness early in his career and partly because he’s a young defenseman.

He’s signed long term and healthy, so the Penguins will ride it out. But he needs to get better before the playoffs if the Penguins are to have a chance at a Stanley Cup. They’re a different team when Maatta is playing well and gets around 20 minutes a night.

One Question

You’re right to be terrified if everyone behind Kris Letang, Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley are bad. But they’re not. There are issues, though. To win a Stanley Cup, you need a high-end Maatta and Ian Cole to be steady. Ideally, you’d like to go:

  • Maatta-Letang
  • Daley-Schultz
  • Cole-Dumoulin

But let’s say the trade deadline arrives and you’re still unsure about Maatta. He’s struggling, and you’re not certain if he’ll be peaking come playoff time. Do you bump everyone up on the left side and let Maatta play bottom-pairing minutes? Do you trust Schultz to be solid as a full-time top-four guy in the postseason? Because that’s not what he was last year.

Letang

Letang

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You’d love to see the Penguins get a top-four, left-handed defenseman or even rent the right-handed Kevin Shattenkirk to solidify the right side of your defense if you can make the cap space work (which will be hard). But this group is fine with potential to get better. It needs to get better.

There’s no need to poop your pants about the Penguins defensemen until late-February, if at all.